My dad is a liberal Democrat, an atheist and a Vietnam vet. I am not sure at what point each circumstance or state of mind came to be in his life — and neither is he — but one thing is certain: He is man of strong conviction, passionately advocating about the futility of war, against the for-profit war machine and the pointless loss of human lives. And this is coming from a man who never actually saw any of his comrades die in Vietnam.

His frustration lies in the lack of value placed on human life. I recall talking to him when I was a young child and he became emotional. He remembered his decision to enlist in the Navy and to fight in the Vietnam War. He told me about the remorse that he felt, after he returned from active service, regarding his decision to enlist, which could have resulted in his death and would have left his mother devastated. During that eye-opening moment, he realized his personal impact on his family and his place in the world. He also realized the value of all human life.

Though many have found some sort of peace about serving in the military, whether it be active service men and women or those who stand behind them, engaging in war and putting one’s life on the line is not a mere career choice — it’s a life choice that can have ripple effects that create permanent, deep and sometimes ugly scars. And there is a powerful dynamic at play when those who are willing to sacrifice their lives are being guided by too many who don’t revere human life as much as my father does or as many other civil activists do.

We can’t deny the fact that sometimes war is a necessary evil, but over the course of the last several decades, we should be wondering — why? Were these wars really necessary? And why, exactly, did all of those people have to die? Where are the diplomacy and progressive ideas? And there has been no victory declared. Just loss. Though we hope some form of democracy has sprung from the last decade of war in the Middle East, the pointless deaths of service members and innocent civilians are impossible to ignore. Could we have done things differently? Could we have sent negotiators to supplement our fighters? While we have the utmost respect for those who have served our country, we still question our leaders who have gotten so many entangled in situations with such dire consequences.

As Memorial Day approaches, it is our patriotic duty to reflect on the service men and women who have died to protect the freedoms we cherish. By the same token, we, as Americans living in a democracy, must hold our legislators, our president and our former presidents accountable for the devastating effects of war. While we applaud President Barack Obama for his recent decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and proceed with extreme caution with Iran, we must, as a society, collectively decide what our lives are worth and be certain that any loss of life is worth the liberties we hold dear. And to that end, we must remain assertive in our due diligence to make our opinions loud and clear, whether in writing, at protests or at the polls.

In honor of those who died, we will let the numbers speak for themselves.

U.S casualties of war since 1917, beginning with World War I:
World War I, 1917-1918 —116,516
World War II, 1941-1945 — 405,399
Korean War, 1950-1953 — 36,516
Vietnam War, 1955-1975 — 58,209
Gulf War, 1990-1991 — 258
Iraq, 2003-2011 — 4,484 (as of 02/2012)
Afghanistan, 2001-ongoing  —1,893 (as of 02/2012) F

Several other casualties in lesser known conflicts since World War I resulted in the loss of more than 1,200 lives, but due to space limitations, are not listed. Also, more than 625,000 lives were lost during the Civil War. Numbers pulled from U.S. Army Military History Institute, iCasualties.org and militaryfactory.com.